Ed Speleers Talks Joining the ‘Picard’ Family, His Future With ‘Star Trek’ and His ‘Liberating’ Role on ‘You’

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses plot points on Season 3, Episode 2 of “Star Trek: Picard” (currently streaming on Paramount+) as well as the first half of the fourth season of “You” (currently streaming on Netflix).

When Ed Speleers was growing up in the UK, he remembers coming home from school, turning on BBC Two, and tuning into “Star Trek: The Next Generation” at 6:30pm — but he never quite considered himself a Trekkie. So when “Star Trek: Picard” showrunner Terry Matalas cast Speleers for the third season of the Paramount+ series, he told the actor he needed to go to “Star Trek University.”

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“He gave me this long list of ‘TNG’ episodes that he felt were pertinent, and of films going right from ‘Wrath of Khan’ all the way to ‘First Contact,'” Speleers tells Variety via Zoom. “I devoured them. I’d spend three or four hours a day working on how I was going to approach this guy, and then I’d finish it all off with either watching two episodes of ‘TNG’ or one of these films.”

The reason for Speleers’ intensive “Trek” study is made crystal clear at the end of the second episode of the season, when Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) realizes that Speleers’ character Jack isn’t just the son of Picard’s former chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) — Jack is Picard’s son, too.

It’s a gargantuan revelation for Picard — and for “Star Trek” fans. Since the series premiere of “TNG” in 1987, Picard’s attitude about children has been prickly at best, and his singular dedication to his role as a Starfleet officer has always precluded him from starting a family. Suddenly, Picard is confronted with a grown child he never knew existed, from a relationship with Dr. Crusher that — on “TNG,” at least — had remained steadfastly unconsummated.

Jack Crusher could be a pivotal role for Speleers, as well. Cast as an unknown teenager in the lead role of the 2006 fantasy adaptation “Eragon,” Speleers has spent the rest of his career in smaller, supporting roles in UK-based productions like “Downton Abbey,” “Wolf Hall” and “Outlander.” Jack, by contrast, feels very much like a leading man in training — someone who could very well headline a next, next generation of the “Trek” universe.

If that possibility is in Speleers’ future, Paramount+ may need to act quickly, because Speleers is also simultaneously appearing in a standout role opposite Penn Badgley on the fourth season of thriller “You,” the first half of which is currently streaming on Netflix. On “You,” Speelers plays the mysterious Rhys Montrose, an ambitious writer and aspiring politician who emerges as the main antagonist of Badgley’s serial-killer character Joe Goldberg. (Part 2 of “You” Season 4 debuts on March 9.)

Speleers spoke with Variety about what it means to play Picard’s son, whether he would want to continue in the role, what he makes of his 10-year age gap with the character — and what it was like to start production on shooting “You” just 10 days after finishing shooting “Picard.”

After going to Trek University, how much did you appreciate what it would mean for fans to learn that Jean-Luc Picard had a son?

I did start to understand it. It filled me with some trepidation, because “Trek” fans are so dedicated and passionate to the universe that they love, that I feel that there’ll be some questions about him having a son. It prepared me for trying to flesh out this character, and ingrain him into the world that we were creating.

How much did you want to draw from Picard and from Dr. Crusher in building your performance as their son?

I think with Beverly, she is a very strong-willed woman who, in order to protect her son, took him away from everything that she knew. Her qualities of sensitivity, of wanting to help or better understand people, filter into Jack’s way of being. He gets a real forthright energy from his old man. I know that people look at Jack thinking that he’s not necessarily in the Picard mold — maybe he’s more roguish. I think he is, but he still has this underpinned characteristic that I think he shares with Picard — to always be fearless, and do the best you possibly can for the benefit of others.

Did you look at Patrick Stewart’s or Gates McFadden’s mannerisms or physicality? Did you want to incorporate any of them?

It was something that was discussed. I definitely looked at it. There are some things that happen later on in the season that I did want to explore that were were akin to what was happening with Picard’s character. But I talked about this with Terry quite a lot. I felt that there was a chance to make him his own. And even if he is more full of bravado, there are nods to how they are similar. Mannerisms might have crept into it here and there, but I didn’t actively go out of my way. Also, Jack wasn’t brought up by his father, so I felt I could step away from Picard.

What was the first day like when you met Patrick and Gates?

Patrick took me for a lovely lunch down in Beverly Hills, and we talked about all things Yorkshire, all things football, and all things drama and life. I had a great first encounter with Gates; we talked all things theater. Both of them have a huge passion for theater, which I think spills through into their work. They don’t just want to turn up; they want to know exactly what the scene is about. They are a great scene partners and I felt very supported by both of them.

As a lifelong “Trek” fan myself, I would feel overwhelmed by acting across from them. What was it like for you?

It always creeps in whenever you work with an actor on such a scale, and when they have legacy like Patrick and Gates have. Of course, there is that starstruck, overwhelmed moment. You’ve been studying these people — let alone how big they are, and how much they mean to other people. However, I tried my best to just park that. Because of the way they approach the work, and I think I approach work, you move past that very quickly and then you really just concentrate on what you’ve got to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are still real pinch-yourself moments, when you’re having full-on family conflict between these people, and then you’re thinking, “I’m doing this with — with a knight!”

So can I ask, how how old is Jack supposed to be?

23, 24, I think we’ve discussed in the in the series.

And you’re 34?


Not to put too fine a point on this, and you’re very youthful, but did that age gap give you any pause? 

It was something that was discussed. I certainly felt a challenge to play down a bit. I know that happens in TV and cinema quite a lot anyway — quite often actors have to play down in age. I definitely tried to bring some youthfulness to the role, I think. But the gap, I mean, I come from a big age gap between me and my folks. My mom hates me saying that, but anyway — it’s something that I can relate to. I know that it might be an ongoing question. However, I believe that if we get the story told in the right way, and if these characters are believed, then the relationships will be believed — and I think the numbers and the age differences will become superfluous.

Are you prepared to be playing this character beyond this season of “Picard”?

If it happens, and I really hope it does — at the moment, there’s no indication of that being the case. This is going to be driven — I really, really believe this — by how it’s received and what “Trek” fans feel about it. If it comes, genuinely, this whole experience has meant so much to me, both for me and for my family, that I would love to play for years to come. Really, really, really — if it turned out that way that I was able to play Jack for the next 5, 10, 15 years, I would welcome it with open arms.

To shift gears, you also have a pivotal role on the fourth season of “You.” Knowing that the first five episodes have already streamed on Netflix, what is a non-spoiler-y insight you have about your character?

That was a role that allowed me to play with the shackles off, I suppose. It was a very liberating part. I started shooting it almost 10 days after finishing “Picard.” I relished it, because it just filled me with the confidence in my ability to have a lot of fun. The character, he’s there to poke and prod and needle and question Joe’s sheer existence.

What’s Penn Badgley like as a scene partner?

Incredible. He’s a wonderful human being. He is so gracious. He is so welcoming. He’s such a calm individual. And he’s fiercely intelligent, and he just welcomes the space you want to work in. That’s a guy who I think personally should have been given far more accolades for that role than maybe he has, because the detail he puts into his performance, and the physicality he puts in on a day to day basis, is something to behold. And as a partner, he just encourages you to give more and more and more. I can’t speak for him, but I feel we really struck a great understanding of one another, and how one another wanted to operate. We allowed each other space, but I think there was a real trust.

Yeah, we hit it off straightaway. In fact, he texted me a couple of hours ago asking me if I want to go on his podcast. Maybe I should do that!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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